Are they fact or fiction?

  • ‘The world’s best last chance to get runaway climate change under control.’
  • ‘Homes disappear underwater and crops decimated by drought.’
  • ‘…ultimately threatens life on earth.’
  • ‘Whether future generations look back at this time with admiration or despair, depends entirely on our ability to seize this moment.’

*Spoiler Alert* Although these might sound like something out of The Day After Tomorrow, these are all statements taken from the website for COP26 – a big climate change conference happening in Glasgow from 31st October – 12th November.

These big conferences happen every year and are organised by the United Nations (UN). However, this year’s conference is a really important one: over the 12 days of the conference, many countries will be rethinking what they can do and committing to making changes for the benefit of everyone. Many climate scientists agree that this is the world’s last chance to act to bring climate change under control.

‘Last chance’. Not a nice phrase, is it? When used with children, it’s usually preceded by, ‘I’m warning you…’ and paired with raised eyebrows and wide eyes. It’s a way of telling them off or trying to bribe them into putting their shoes on/finishing their work/stop talking during assembly. It can often be associated with shame and the prospect of imminent punishment.

The reading ages on books for children are based not just on vocabulary or sentence length, but on what age it is deemed appropriate to introduce children to specific topics. The British Board of Film Classification puts age recommendations on films depending on their content too. (Incidentally, The Day After Tomorrow is rated as PG-13. I know you were wondering.)

But what do we do when real life sounds more and more like fiction? How do we classify real life so that children are informed about the world around them, but not traumatised? How can we help them retain childlike innocence, but not cosset them so they are oblivious to reality?

According to the biggest scientific study yet on climate anxiety and young people, nearly 6 in 10 young people, aged 16 to 25, reported they were experiencing ‘climate anxiety’. In the same study, 4 in 10 young people around the world reported that they are hesitant to have children as a result of the climate crisis, and fear that governments are doing too little to prevent climate catastrophe.

It is vital that parents, parishes and schools work together to communicate with children about the reality of climate change, but also, and simultaneously, about the beauty of God’s creation, the overflow of love we see around us every day and the reality of God’s call for us to be good stewards of the Earth that He has created for us to enjoy. After all, on each day of creation, God reflected on what He had made, and ‘He saw that it was good’.

In order to help you communicate this message to children and young people, we have created a special prayer video to:

  • Inform children about what the conference is
  • Help them understand what it means for Christians to be called stewards of the earth
  • Invite them to pray that the world leaders attending will use their decision-making power wisely and compassionately
COP26 Prayer

COP26 Prayer

This prayer video was created to be used at the start of or during COP26 – the annual UN organised climate change summit.

Go to Prayer

After considered reflection, we haven’t used the phrase ‘last chance’ in this video. We are absolutely behind the climate science that uses this phrase, but – as anyone who lived through the Cold War will surely tell you – it is important to choose our words carefully to avoid causing unintended alarm or upset.

The Church* agrees that children need to know about climate change: its human causes, and its impact on the earth and our brothers and sisters around the world. But we do not want to cause panic. So we are trusting schools, parents and parishes to respond sensitively to the pastoral needs of the individual children and young people in their care, and hope that this resource will be instructive and inspiring.

After using the prayer video in class, we encourage schools to engage in further discussion about the impacts of climate change, but also what children can do to help protect the Earth.

Check out Pope Francis’ ‘Thought for the Day’ ahead of the COP26 in Glasgow: